• Rewind to 1991

From no-hoper to PGA champion

Alex Dimond
August 8, 2013
John Daly takes the plaudits on his way to the tenth tee during his final round © AP

It was the withdrawal of Nick Price, staying at home to be with his wife ahead of the birth of their child, that finally allowed the ninth alternate for the 1991 US PGA Championship into the field at Crooked Stick. That man was John Daly.

That Price would withdraw was in itself fortunate, but to see the list of the eight other players who opted out of their places suggests that fate was also playing a hand. Two players withdrew through injury, while Mark James stayed at home to try and qualify for Europe's Ryder Cup team and Lee Trevino stayed away due to exhaustion. Brad Faxon, meanwhile, was already qualified for the event - meaning his spot for winning the preceding Buick Open could also go elsewhere.

1991 US PGA Championship - final leaderboard

John Daly was a memorable winner © PA Photos
  • -12     John Daly                       (69 67 69 71)     276
  • -9    Bruce Lietzke                (68 69 72 70)     279
  • -7     Jim Gallagher Jnr           (70 72 72 67)    281
  • -6     Kenny Knox                  (67 71 70 74)    282
  • -5     Steven Richardson            (70 72 72 69)    283

Price's family issues, however, were the last to arise. But, unbelievably, his spot was the hardest to fill. Sixth alternate Bill Sander turned down the place due to tiredness, while Mark Lye refused to play without having had a practice round at the 7,289-yard layout first. Brad Bryant then also declined the invitation at the last minute, as he had some personal family issues to attend to in Texas.

That left Daly - who was happy to play despite having to drive halfway across the country the night before, to play on a course he'd never seen before. The only saving grace was that he had a bit of time to recuperate.

"I spoke to John on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning to tell him he was first alternate, and he said he was going to get in his car and start driving," Ken Anderson, then the PGA Tour's field administrator, recalled. "He got lucky in that Price had an afternoon tee time. It allowed him to sleep in.

"I looked up where the players were staying that week and left a message at John's hotel to say he'd gotten [into the field] and didn't have to get to the course at 7am."

Daly might have been in the field, but he still didn't have a caddie. So, just as he had taken Price's spot he took the Zimbabwean's caddie for the week - a former bricklayer by the name of Jeff 'Squeaky' Medlin. 'Squeaky' had spent the early part of the week walking the course and collecting yardages, so at least one of them would know what shots to hit at one of America's hardest courses, and with what clubs.

Except this rookie, who had missed 11 of 23 cuts to date, hit the ball further than Squeaky had ever seen.

"Jeff had caddied for guys like Freddie Couples, Nick, Jeff Sluman, and to go from that calibre of player to someone he'd never heard of, he was like, 'Oh, I'm working for a rookie'," Diane Medlin, Squeaky's widow, remembered. "But after the first round he called and said, 'I can't club this guy. He hits it longer than anybody I've ever seen'."

That was the 25-year-old's advantage - as he blasted the ball over any and all danger with an idiosyncratic golf swing that coiled way past parallel, a recipe for an opening 69 that only left him two shots behind the much better prepared leaders.

"The bunkering kind of closed in at 260 yards, and then at 280 it opened back up to the wide-open spaces," Fuzzy Zoeller said of the Crooked Stick course. "Well, John never saw 280. He was pumping it out there 300 yards in the air."

"I had Greg Norman out to the course prior to the PGA and he couldn't carry any [danger]; John Daly carried it all"
Crooked Stick course designer Pete Dye on his embarrassing realisation

Designer Pete Dye had gone to great lengths to ensure such an issue wouldn't affect his remodelled track, getting perhaps the finest player in the game to act as a tester. It was a flawed plan: "I had Greg Norman out to the course prior to the PGA and he couldn't carry any [of the danger]; John Daly carried it all."

In practice Jack Nicklaus said the course was the hardest he had ever played, while back-to-back US Open champion Curtis Strange carded an 81 on Thursday and didn't bother coming back for the rest of the week. Daly, meanwhile, found himself cutting corners off the tee and hitting wedges into greens others were finding with three-irons, on the way to a round of 67 that put him atop the leaderboard.

Not only that, but he was showing no fear on the greens either.

"I remember him putting like kids putt, ramming everything in," one of his player partners, Billy Andrade, noted. "It seemed like they were going in the centre at 100 mph, which told you he was confident."

The third round was going along similarly swimmingly until Daly - still in the lead - came to putt for eagle at the par-five 11th. His caddie took out the flagstick but appeared to tap it on a point in the green - a clear violation of the rules if he was attempting to point out the putting line to Daly. After the round Daly, along with playing partner and nearest challenger, Bruce Lietzke, were brought in to review the evidence and see if Daly should be penalised - or even disqualified.

"Somebody called in and we had to go into a trailer to look at the tape for five minutes after the round," Lietzke said. "It came pretty close, but we determined he didn't touch the intended line. Squeaky was one of the veteran caddies and would have known you couldn't do that."

Lietzke perhaps did himself a disservice; despite being the one of the best placed to benefit from any misfortune for Daly, he turned out to be his biggest defender.

"John was very professional about the whole thing, and Bruce really saved the day, Larry Startzel, chairman of the Rules Committee, confirmed. "He was adamant that Jeff hadn't been giving John the line."

Glory's Final Shot bites back

Tiger Woods peers onto the seventh green during his practice round © AP
  • The US PGA Championship has always struggled to meet the prestige of golf's other three majors.Why? Because the US PGA just isn't as fearsome as the others.

    The Open Championship, the original major and played out in golf's truest form on blustery links; the Masters and the esteem and challenge that Augusta brings; and the acid test that is the US Open.

    But this time around, Glory's Final Shot, as they call it, promises to be one of the more intriguing major championships of recent years - and not just because it's set to the backdrop of the notoriously difficult Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York.

    Click here for the full US PGA preview

Having overcome that scare and secured a three-shot lead heading into the final round, Daly decided - as you do - to take his fiancé Bettye Fulford to a pre-season game for the nearby NFL team, the Indianapolis Colts. They were the centre of attention, and John loved it.

"Me and Bettye went on the 50-yard line and waved at everybody like I'd already won the tournament or something. The fans were nuts. They were great," he said. "The owner, Mr Irsay, asked me if I played any football, and I said I used to kick field goals.

"I was going to get dressed up for the Colts to kick a field goal in the game, and we almost had it, but the insurance wouldn't do it."

With an attitude like that, it wasn't hard to see why Daly had captured the imagination of so many in the gallery. The final round was a tense affair with Daly only managing to maintain the gap between himself and his nearest challengers, before a double-bogey at the penultimate hole led commentators to warn "this one isn't over yet".

But, really, it was. Daly avoided water on the last and found the green safely in two - high-fiving his way down the fairway before he two-putted his way to a par and three-shot victory.

"This is like a miracle," he said in the aftermath. "It just doesn't happen that often."

Later on, with years to reflect, he would add: "Winning the [1995] British Open was sweet but not as rowdy and cool as that. It was cool going through the crowd high-fiving everybody. My right hand was so sore after that week. My fingers were so sore.

"Man, I don't do that anymore. I'm scared I'm going to get injured."

There were the theatrics, but then there was the serious side too. At the beginning of the week, a father of two, Thomas Weaver, had been killed in the Crooked Stick car park after being struck by lightning. Daly, immediately upon winning, made his intention clear to donate $30,000 from his winnings to a scholarship fund for the two young girls left without their father.

"It was such a nice gesture that John, especially at such a young age, would think of my family," Dee Fisher, Weaver's wife who subsequently married, said years later. "The money gained interest, and their dad and I had set aside some, too.

"Emily started at Purdue, got married and finished at a school in Illinois. She got a degree as a respiratory therapist. Karen got a degree in biology at Indiana and is doing clinical rotations at medical school in Michigan."

What happened next?

  • Almost overnight, Daly became one of the biggest names in the game (indeed, in many ways his tale inspired the Adam Sandler film 'Happy Gilmore'). He would ride a similar blend of power and putting precision to a second major victory, in the 1995 Open Championship at St Andrews, but he was known as much for his character as his quality - for his marriages to various women, his addiction battles with multiple substances and his collection of equally silly haircuts.
  • His last win, one of only five on tour, was in 2004 - suggesting that he never quite lived up to the potential his rampage at Crooked Stick hinted at. Indeed, it's perhaps telling that Daly is the only (eligible) two-time major champion never to have been selected for a Ryder Cup side.

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